Saint Etienne's new album is very pleasant. Faint praise? Maybe, but the uncomplicated, retro-pop breeziness of "Good Humor" inspires the same feelings as romantic comedies of the "When Harry Met Sally" variety. There is no angst or fire in these rose-tinted tales of urban love and loneliness. This makes for gratifying pop-music on the album's best tracks, "Split Screen" and "Lose That Girl." Yet while Saint Etienne's smoothly updated '60s girl-group sound is much more sophisticated than the Spice Girls, it lacks the sultriness of Everything But the Girl's oeuvre.
And there's the rub. Saint Etienne make pitch-perfect background music, but repeated listenings reveal no hidden bite. Unlike The Cardigans vocalist Nina Persson, whose sweetly precise vocals battle a sullen and discontented spirit, Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell just seems genuinely ... nice. Damning with faint praise again? Yes.
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